Safe sex at uni
Help and advice
You'll have many new experiences when you go to university, including developing healthy relationships with new friends and, possibly, new sexual relationships.
Living away from family and friends gives you more choice over how you spend your time. This includes the choice to be sexually active and explore your sexuality – but it's important to take your sexual health seriously.
Sex might not be a topic you've discussed openly before. But it's important to know your choices and your options when it comes to a safe sex life.
Trigger warning: We cover some topics here that may be uncomfortable to read if you've had a negative experience.
If you're sexually active at uni, it's important to take care of your sexual health. Your sexual health can impact on your physical and mental wellbeing, but it's easy to stay safe if you know how.
When thinking about your sexual health, consider the need to:
- Protect yourself from sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- Use contraception to protect yourself from STIs and unplanned pregnancy
- Develop confidence to talk about sexual health with your partner and GP
Make sure you know the risks and how to avoid them by reading up about sexual health:
- Sexwise – honest advice about contraception, pregnancy, STIs and pleasure
- NHS – their sexual health pages provide information on general sexual health and STIs
Sexual health services
You can get medical support for your sexual health, including free contraception and STI checks, from the following services:
- Your local doctor
- Local sexual health clinics – in Portsmouth, you can visit St Mary's Community Health Campus and Solent Sexual Health Services
- In England, call the Sexual Health Line on 0300 123 7123 or NHS 111
- In Wales, call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47
- In Scotland, call NHS 24 on 111.
- In Northern Ireland, call the FPA helpline on 0345 122 8687
You give your consent when you give permission for something to happen. This applies in all areas of life, including in your sexual relationships.
Just because you give permission for one thing to happen, like a kiss, doesn't mean you've automatically consented to other kinds of sexual behaviour. The same goes for your partner – always ask, never presume. It's important that everyone involved in any type of sexual activity has freely given their full consent.
Similarly, if you've given consent previously, your partner shouldn't assume that you've consented to sexual activity at any time in the future.
And you're allowed to change your mind – don't feel you must continue if you don't want to and do let your partner know you're not happy to carry on.
Consent cannot be given by anyone under the age of 16 in the UK.
Lack of consent may not always be communicated verbally. If your partner pulls away from you, tries to push you away or seems uncomfortable in any way during sexual contact, ask them if they're okay to continue.
If you're the one feeling uncomfortable, say so. Without your full consent, your partner should know not to continue. It might be easier to start by saying something like 'Can we just take a break for a moment and talk about this?'
Sexual consent can be cloudy in new relationships. When you meet someone new, be open to discussing your boundaries with each other. It might seem uncomfortable at first, but you'll be able to be more open and trusting with each other once you're on the same page. And that makes for a much better relationship.
Remember, not all sexual relationships are portrayed realistically in the media and online, especially in porn. When approaching a new relationship, remember that consent is rarely displayed in porn and your partner shouldn't be expected to perform in the same way either.
Lack of capacity to consent
If drugs or alcohol are a factor in your sexual activity, consent can be harder to be sure of. If you or your partner are too drunk or high to make informed decisions, or if your partner is unconscious, then you should stop engaging in any kind of sexual activity. This includes touching or kissing.
Rape Crisis England and Wales describes sexual violence as 'any kind of unwanted sexual act or activity, including rape, sexual assault, sexual abuse, and many others'.
This means that any sexual activity without consent is deemed as sexual violence, and is a criminal act. Respect the boundaries of others, and be free to voice your concerns if you're uncomfortable in a situation so others can respect you.
If you experience any kind of unwanted sexual act or activity and your boundaries weren't respected, speak to confidential services at the university or in the local area, and call the police. You can find a list of support services at the end of this page.
You should also seek out medical support from a sexual health service in case the person involved had an STI.
Citizen's Advice describes sexual harassment as 'unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature which:
- violates your dignity
- makes you feel intimidated, degraded or humiliated
- creates a hostile or offensive environment'
If you experience any kind of sexual harassment, speak to confidential services at the university or in the local area, and call the police.
Reporting sexual harassment
At Portsmouth, our Student Charter highlights the importance of respecting others, being a role model for others and playing your part in the university community. Most universities will have similar student policies. As part of the student community, you can respect others by supporting anyone you know experiencing sexual harassment, and reporting it.
If you witness any experience of sexual violence or harassment at Portsmouth, you can submit an anonymous report or an informal report to request an adviser. The University regards every report seriously and will take disciplinary action if needed.
Support services and further resources
- Rape Crisis England & Wales – a network of independent rape crisis centres
- Citizens Advice – advice on what to do if you're sexually assaulted
- Student Wellbeing Service
- Treetops Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC)
- Portsmouth Abuse and Rape Counselling Service (PARCS)
- Independent Sexual Violence Advocacy Service (ISVA)
- Stop Domestic Abuse